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How to spring clean your Windows PC

Is your computer filling up with old files or slowing down, cluttered with applications? Just like your house, now spring is in the air, your PC likely needs a good spring cleaning. Fortunately there are a few simple steps you can take and utilities you can use to clean up the debris that may be cluttering up your machine.

First you should decide how thorough you want to be. Like your basement, your PC can potentially benefit from hours of cleaning, but you probably have other things to do with your time. So if your hard drive is filled to bursting, spend some time backing up and clearing off your data files. Otherwise, though, quite honestly, your time is better spent on other chores.

There is one exception to this rule, though: Your desktop. If you've been letting your desktop fill up, take just 10 minutes to file away or delete the clutter.

Unclog the pipes

One of the simplest steps you can take to help out your machine's performance is to defragment the hard drive. Defragmenting reassembles and rearranges files that have become scattered across the drive, ensuring that your computer can get to each file as quickly as possible.

It is true, though, that test results show that defragging achieves an uneven level of improvement. But with a disk defragmenting utility built right into Windows, there's no reason not to run it from time to time. Note that if you’re on Windows 8, there’s no need to worry as the system takes care of defragging duties automatically.

Free space

Slightly more complicated but practically guaranteed effective is freeing space on your hard drive. Unused programs and especially services take up space as well as using computer processing time and even slowing your boot time. The first culprits to look for are any applications that start up each time you launch Windows but aren't doing anything you need. To check these out, go to the Run box (in the Start menu) and type msconfig (or in Windows 8, just type msconfig when at the Start screen). Go to the Startup tab and you can disable the apps you don't want running automatically. You can search online for unfamiliar names to see what these processes do. And do take a few seconds to research the names; you don't want to disable a critical process.

Next, check out your installed software. Go to the Control Panel, and then Uninstall a Program to see them all listed. If you're the sort of person who has tried a number of programs, or even if you've just stopped using some of your older software, you'll find a goldmine of opportunity for cleaning up your system. Select and uninstall each of the applications you no longer use. In general, if you're asked whether to remove shared files, it is safest to say no. They don't take much room, and if you remove them you risk breaking some other application.

Software helpers

For a general spring cleaning utility to tidy up all temporary files, browser files, redundant registry entries, log files and all sorts of other junk, we recommend CCleaner. It’s a free program, and a very useful one, too.

If you suspect you've wound up with multiple copies of large files like photos, music, or videos, there are utilities that can help you locate and delete duplicates. One nice free one is Fast Duplicate File Finder from MindGems.

Whether you take the time to go through all of these steps or just some of them, the time you spend spring cleaning your system should more than pay for itself in a better-performing machine for the rest of the year.

Now you’re done sprucing up your operating system, you might also want to physically clean up your computer, too. See our feature on how to clean your PC for more details.